New high-density storage media uses unusual materials

According to several experts, society is on the verge of a data storage crisis. Research has suggested that the total amount of data stored worldwide is doubling every two years. Additionally, more than 90% of the data we create is only accessed within the first three months of its existence before going on to spend the rest of its days accruing metaphysical dust. In short, we need media with significantly greater storage densities than those currently on offer – but how will we achieve this?

Fortunately, several means of increasing the density of existing technologies have emerged in recent years, as have new and innovative means of storing data. Notable examples of the former include helium-filled hard drives and new writing techniques such as heat-assisted magnetic recording. For the latter, DNA data storage – which experts have claimed could boast storage densities so impressive that the contents of a data centre could be held in the type of standard 2.5 enclosure used to house hard drives – is generating considerable excitement. Such excitement has been tempered by other experts who claim that it will be some time before DNA data storage is a feasible option, though, noting that the eye-wateringly high costs of both synthesising the materials needed to store the data and then retrieve them are hugely prohibitive. As a result, researchers around the world continue to develop new ways of storing data – and some may have just made a significant breakthrough.

A team of academics from the universities of New South Wales, South Australia and Adelaide announced last week that, by using light from a laser, they had stored data in nano-sized crystals of salt. Additionally, and impressively, the data can also be rewritten – something very unusual of storage media that utilises optical data storage techniques.

Dr Nick Reisen, a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Australia, has claimed that this form of data storage could be used to offer high-density media that is also energy-efficient; something that is absolutely vital in a world where demand for storage technology is growing exponentially but global warming remains a significant issue.

In addition, Reisen claims that these nano-sized particles could be embedded into glass or polymers in order for this technique to be used in 3D storage structures, claiming that this could lead to small storage cubes capable of holding 2.5 Petabytes of data (that’s 2.5 million Gigabytes).

Ultimately, only time will tell if this becomes a practicable means of storing our data but it’s good to know that the problems caused by our seemingly unquenchable thirst for data aren’t going unnoticed. 

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